Last fall, before the snow flew and the days were still warm enough to wear only a light jacket, I was out washing windows on our new rental home with one of those long-handled squeegee tools. I’d already cleaned the inside of the glass, but I’d wager it was nearing on a decade since anyone had tackled the outside chore. One afternoon that cloudy view, that nary a fisherman would notice, had suddenly become very visible to me. I couldn’t spend another day, let alone a whole frozen winter, staring out through a hazy lense at our beautiful woods, the visiting deer or the full moon’s path across our own private sky.
The chore was tedious but rhythmic, and I moved from one glass panel to the next with a made-up song on my lips. As I reached the southwest corner of the house, the winter-ready sun was at a perfect upper-corner-of-the-eye angle, reflecting off the high windows just-so that I was momentarily blinded reaching the telescoped scrubber high over my head. I briefly considered skipping to the next wall and coming back to these panes once the sun had moved, but the thought left as quickly as it had come, and I pressed on.
Truly, it’s not often that my constant, chattering thoughts vacate me, but I have come to know that if it is to happen, it will likely be during steady, wholesome work the result of which makes the menial chore rewarding and even enjoyable.
On the next window, the reflection was the same and I pressed on yet again. It became this blind, third-eye challenge of sorts, and I found myself smiling into the golden glare.
My head thrown back, my eyes squinting towards the light, my arms reaching high overhead in the steady motion of the washing, unplanned I breathed “Hello, God.” That heady, behind-the-eyes split second knowing of connection came, as it has more and more lately. I continued my task in utter contentment, feeling the tax on my limbs as the gift that it is.
“God,” I breathed again, looking straight up into the glare.
And then, from the depths of my belly came a response as perfectly articulated as the black markings on a paper birch.
“God is not other,” the warmth from within me said plainly.
I heard it and knew it and it resonated up through my chest and out through my squinting eyes as I stilled and stared at the spot on the window where the light refracted and hit my eyes with the force of a scattered laser.
“God is not other,” I repeated out loud. It was a moment of pure inner knowing, the likes of which I’ve experienced only a small handful of times in my 42 years.
I continued on with the overhead scrubbing until I had rounded the corner and the glare was gone. But I kept repeating it, singing it as if I were afraid the truth of it would disappear into the sunlight. “God is not other…God is not other…God is not ‘other’”.
I was about eight when I started getting pissed off at religion. Certain pieces of the Christianity puzzle, especially the “He” and “Him” and “Father” that were supposedly God sat so wrong with me. As a youngster driven to be the model good girl, I had no depth or courage to question why I felt that way. No one questioned the Bible where I came from. I didn’t even know to wish that it had been two nurturing women who explained and celebrated the ritual with me, instead of two old men I barely knew walking into the shallow waters of Zippel Bay where I was baptized. I had never seen a female pastor or elder, and I hated how terribly the very few women in the Bible stories were treated and how that bled into the realities of my life even then.
It felt to me like women worked the hardest for the church; they certainly believed the most fervently, and yet women were always representative of Eve and her mythical original sin. We were very much other than man and other than God. None of it ever felt fair or good or loving or Godly.
For decades, I had been blindly speaking to a god “out there”, questing outward, throwing up my pleas for peace and patience to the night skies, to the god of the man-written Bible, to the god of my childhood as I understood “Him” then. Always, I waited and wondered when I would hear something. I tried to push back into the old religion, the old beliefs many times, but my soul-deep resistance to the male-imaged deity and the masculine-dominated language of quite-literally man-made religion wouldn’t allow it.
It’s only been in the last few years when I have let go of the forced beliefs that God must be as men describe, that I have finally started to connect with God. My constant spiritual seeking came full-circle, back to what my 8-year old self intrinsically knew, back to the divine soul within. And it helped explain that heady connection and gut-deep knowing that I have started to experience more and more.
God once told me to get up off my knees and go clean the toilet. I stopped my middle-of-the night bedside weeping, my utter despair at feeling so alone and such a mess, and I listened. I cleaned the toilet until it sparkled, and then I continued on until the room where we care for our physical temples was a place worthy of God’s residence.
It was the perfect allegorical chore to teach me that God is in the menial tasks. God is in the woman kneeling and the woman rising. And, God is in a sparkling clean toilet and light-reflecting window.
As a parent, I’ve prayed for patience a hundred times over. Just days ago, when my child ran far out ahead of me on our quiet off-season roads, the oft-repeated plea came naturally to my lips. Before I could even finish the ask, I felt the answer. “I have given you ample opportunities to practice patience,” the nurturing Divine within me responded. As I watched my youngster setting her own pace, I could only laugh at the truth of it. Ample opportunities, indeed. Either God has a sense of humor or the Truth is intrinsically funny, I mused as my feet crunched along on the frozen gravel.
That night, when I asked what instead of patience I should be praying about for my five-going-on-fifteen-year old daughter, the answer was again clear. Pray “that I can See her.” Indeed, that was why I was impatient to begin with. I don’t often truly See her.
I carefully choose the language I use about God with my little girl, and I pray that she grows up knowing God is as much feminine as masculine simply so that she never feels less than or “other” like I did. A few years back in a moment of divine need after she’d asked a pointed question about death, I started calling God “The Great Big Everything”. She likes it because she can turn it into a game: “Are bears part of The Great Big Everything? Are chairs? Are hairs?” Then she’ll laugh uproariously while I answer the same way I always do. “Everything is a part of The Great Big Everything.”
I like it because it’s something Spirit came up with on the spot; it doesn’t pretend to have any hierarchical or grand meaning, and it’s not anything close to the words used by an archaic culture frozen in time in a thousand pages written by men when women were valued little more than cattle. “The Great Big Everything” is God to me because it feels warm and inclusive and because women, baby squirrels and dying pines are as a much a part of Everything as men are. Women have never needed to be more then men. We have only ever needed to be enough and equal as ourselves.
And so, what I have come to know for me, is that God cannot be defined or even adequately described, but it still can’t hurt to clean both sides of the dirty window you’re looking through. Because of that truth, it helps me feel closer to the Divine, to The Great Big Everything by remembering what God is not.
For me, God isn’t a man. God isn’t a Christian. And now I know that God most definitely isn’t “other.”
(Column 87 – published in the April 10th issue of the Warroad Pioneer)